Radio broadcaster, DJ, and producer Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy has been in the game for a while. Having been mentored by legend David Mancuso at his seminal Loft parties in New York throughout the 1970s, she’s honed her craft over the last 25 years. She rose to fame in an era of lugging record boxes to her weekly radio show, and New York’s University WNYU was Murphy's radio debut, a home that established her love for broadcast radio.
She’s now recognized as an internationally loved tastemaker in her own right, having established praised radio shows like Balearic Breakfast, Cosmodelica, and Classic Album Sundays Worldwide (listening sessions that delve into definitive records of our time) on Worldwide FM, a monthly London-based Lucky Cloud party (inspired by Mancuso Loft parties), among many other creative endeavors.
To cover all of Murphy’s accomplishments as DJ and radio host would be a feat in itself. Today, she’s blossomed into a fully-fledged online creator who’s adapted to this “streaming age” – an era of Spotify playlists, USB sticks, and CDJs. Even though this world consumes music, radio shows, and mixes like they do any other commodity, Murphy hasn’t compromised her authenticity in that race. We sat down with Colleen to unpack this, and how communicating through a shared, genuine love for music has been the key to her audience’s heart.
Having been in the game with DJs and legends like David Mancuso — what are some lessons you’ve abided by throughout your career?
A big lesson he left me with and still drives me today is the life energy of music; it was a book that he had given a lot of his friends and he Xeroxed a few copies from chapters for me because he was out of copies. It's by John Diamond and it's about how music... his argument was(and I'm not saying this is always the case) should only be used as a healing force. And that, if it's not actively being used in this way then you can drain people's states, both spiritually and emotionally.
While I don't agree with every little thing in the book, there's a core lesson about raising people's spirits and life energy through music. And that's what drives me and everything that I do musically, whether it's a radio show, Classic Album Sundays, or when DJing. And it's something that I've gotten more and more into as I get older because people are transformed by music. When I ask people to sit and turn their phones off and only use their sense of hearing for 45 minutes to an hour and just immerse themselves in an album, people have always come out emotionally and in some way spiritually transformed.
Talk about how your community has grown with you as a creator, and how has live-streaming helped you stay connected to your network?
The live-streaming has been great, both on the radio side and the DJ side. So starting with radio, as soon as a pandemic struck I had a radio show due, and usually I was going to the studio at Worldwide FM, and of course, I couldn't go. And my husband who's also my manager, Adam, said, "You need to broadcast live from home. Let's just buy the audio card and I'll be your technical guy." Initially, I was hesitant because I didn't want all the tech headaches and then have to host a show, but his support made all the difference. So I have to shout out to my husband because that was the best advice and he's been there every single time, for every show. So at times all the shows Worldwide FM were on FB, and I was hesitant, when they asked me I was like "I'm a radio DJ. I don't want to be on camera! I hate being on camera I'm a radio person. I'm sound." But I’m glad we moved to Mixcloud because I’m way more aligned with the philosophy, I met the founders. Anyway, got over myself and I did it and I was actually yeah, there is actually a lot of interaction…which as a radio host is super important to me. Remember, I started hosting radio shows when I was 14 years old and I've had a radio show every year since I'm 53. So I've been on the radio for nearly 40 years. But any radio person will tell you doing radio live is the paramount experience. Pre-records are... you trying to get the live experience. You're not feeling the atmosphere. You’re not communicating. You're also not on the line. You need to be willing to make mistakes and be vulnerable for people to feel close to you. When you're doing a live radio show you yeah, everything might not be perfect. There will be mistakes, even with me. I'll say something like: “Just learning how to DJ, you know, I've only been doing it for 30 years.” But radio is first about communicating with people second, you know, all the other stuff.
What excited you most about the "boom" of live streaming and how did you curate your streams in a way that helped your fans connect to you and your creative vision?
So we started to take the live element really seriously. We have four cameras, four different angles, and green screens all over. We wanted it to be like inviting someone into our home. And that was key to the radio shows, but I realized how much people missed going dancing, and I wanted to dance! So the first time I hosted one of my Cosmodelica House parties, I did a five-hour set right here from the studio with a green screen, lights – that was May 2020. So I’ve been on camera for events, radio shows, and streams 100 times in one year. I think I adapted quickly to the feeling of being on camera, I mean I got used to it. I also don’t look back or rewatch the streams, I listen, but I don’t watch. But I try to be as natural as I can be, I dance, I make jokes. Sometimes I put my foot in my mouth and type “why did I say that.” We have a great chat going, and I make sure to be engaged.
And it's been a lot of fun I've also gotten to know so many people, there are people from all over the world: Japan Australia, the United States, all over Europe, South America that all come along. And they’ve gotten to know each other in the chat, they say hello and we all started building relationships. …I mean, they've been in my room with me for two years every single Tuesday, you know, they're here with me. I started to meet some of them in person, people came up to me in “We Out Here” which was the first, big event since the pandemic. Some people brought me gifts, and we were crying, it got emotional, they told me I helped them through the lockdown, and I was so humbled.
You’ll soon be releasing your Balearic Breakfast compilation, tell us about what inspired the curation? And what’s challenged you most in hosting the show?
Well it was put together a year ago, and it was all licensed, but all the vinyl pressing plants are backed up because major labels are taking up all the resources (and this has had a huge impact on independent labels.) Anyway, it looks like it’s gonna come out in May, fingers crossed. In terms of the curation, the way I tackled the Heavenly compilation – both me and Jeff (who owns Heavenly Recordings) wanted the tracklist to include sounds that were either no longer available on vinyl or rare. I’ve done a few compilations at this point, one with David Manusco, I also worked on with Ashley Beetle and I try to have a variety of sounds available.. So there'll be mellow stuff and more up-tempo stuff, But, the second aspect that factored most into my curation was that I wanted to pay tribute to Andrew Weatherall, so there’s an interesting Andrew Weatherall mix on there that isn’t available on vinyl.
I also wanted to pay tribute to Phil Asher who was a great producer/DJ– so there’s a mix of his that never came out on vinyl. This particular compilation was more dictated by the format. In terms of challenges, I’ve never really felt stuck hosting this show, radio is very much my natural medium, it’s where I feel most at home. In terms of communicating with people, I have felt down while hosting of course — it was a pandemic, and the murder of George Floyd upset me, but I try to be real with my audience about where I’m at. And I always come out of a show feeling lighter and better. This show has also become like a household routine, my daughter is upstairs, and it’s been comforting. I think the fact that I’m hosting at home has helped me bring down some of the other emotional guards because this is the room I do yoga in and that I’ve sometimes slept in. Even David Manusco has slept in this room! It’s like a safe space, a home. I don’t think I want to return to the studio to host because this has become such a great, authentic setup for me.
What’s a piece of advice you’d give to a young DJ who is just getting started and building their brand?
I think you need to think about other people before yourself. First, you need to ask yourself: what am I offering that isn't already being offered? Otherwise, it's like “I want to do this and you should all listen.” When I started when I was 14 and, as you know, I wasn't like the greatest radio host of the time. I may have played records that no one else had and yes ”I was good at music”, but I wasn't great at communicating which is a key part of my role. And it’s taken years of practice, but for me, it’s all about communicating directly with my audience, whether they were people on the dance floor, people in a room for Classic Album Sundays, or on Mixcloud Live event. Building relationships through music, through our shared love of music. So I try not to get too clever, sometimes I do, of course, but I find that overly technical DJs are driven by the ego, rather than the emotive and spiritual act of being in a community.
And this is also why I don’t enjoy pre-records as much, of course, I have to do them sometimes but I don’t feel they sound as good, or connect as much. I mean they’re technically “good” but it’s not as fun as engaging with people. If you’re starting set and you’re like “here’s my mix, thanks for this promoter for booking me, etc” and it’s all about that specific mix…. Is that communicating with people? Or is that ego? I know I’m being a little bit brutal but it’s because the industry is so saturated. So I would advise someone to start by asking, what difference they can make? And what does their community want? And that’s a better place to start that I want to be as famous as this person or that person.